STEM Leads to New Possibilities in Manufacturing

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

Manufacturing has traditionally served as a great career for those who can’t afford college or costly commutes. This is still true, but so much has changed. In the past, automation and technology meant job cuts. Today, the industry is more advanced than ever, but jobs are abundant. In fact, millions of jobs may go unfilled in the coming years. These are life-changing opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students, like the ones we serve at C-STEM. It all begins with STEM education.

How Manufacturing Has Evolved

Manufacturing has always involved machinery and problem-solving, but now nearly all factories have advanced technology with complex hardware and software. Like many other industries, new innovations and automations are continually being developed.

Production machines are now connected to the internet. Assembly lines are being replaced with individual specialists who produce smart products and 3D printing. Products evolve more quickly, sometimes releasing several updates a year. Critical thinking, computer science and IT are now essential skills in manufacturing jobs.

Many of these jobs don’t even require you to go into the factory anymore. Consequently, nearly half of manufacturing jobs can be performed remotely following the pandemic. This means that if you have an interest in manufacturing technology, you may be able to land one of these jobs even if there is not a factory nearby.

Manufacturing Jobs of the Future

An estimated 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030. Many of these jobs were shut down during the pandemic, but the industry has mostly rebounded. However, there still aren’t enough qualified workers to fill jobs, which will continue to increase. Further, 77% of manufacturers say they will have ongoing difficulties attracting and retaining workers in 2021 and beyond.

In their quest to fill these jobs, manufacturers are focusing on diversity and inclusion initiatives. This means they are building programs to attract more women and marginalized groups. Workers of all backgrounds can now tap into the potential of manufacturing.

What do these jobs look like? There are architectural detailers use 3D scanners and computer-aided design (CAD) software to create projects digitally. There are also computer programmers who tweak and update production plans, robotics experts who configure and monitor machinery, network engineers who keep systems online, cybersecurity professionals who protect customer and company information, and many more.

Preparing Students for Manufacturing Jobs with STEM Education

The same STEM skills needed in industries like software development and healthcare are needed for manufacturing. Just as important as the topics – science, technology, engineering, math – is the approach. Students need to learn through hands-on problem-solving and making, with a focus on collaboration, critical thinking, and innovating by seeking out new solutions.

What’s important is incorporating manufacturing as an option. When we talk about astronauts and Google programmers, we should also be talking about the innovators designing, improving, and producing products.

Manufacturing is an exciting topic to incorporate into student classroom projects. It’s relatable and engaging to challenge students to create new products or improve upon the ones they use every day. When we were kids, we could dream these things up, but now, with the technology available, it’s much easier to make them a reality. Students can draft prototypes on computers or think of manufacturing applications for STEM projects they’re already working on.

Do Manufacturing Jobs Require College?

With the increasing complexity of manufacturing jobs, can someone with a high school degree still get these jobs? The short answer is yes.

Currently, about 40% of manufacturing workers have a degree. The good news is students can choose the track that works best for them. This could be a high school diploma with on-the-job training, trade school, community college, or a bachelor’s degree. Many manufacturers also help pay for education, so students can begin working and progress in their education afterward.

Mentorship is a great way for schools to get a better idea of the education expectations for factories in their areas. Bringing in workers to speak to students about their career paths, and what manufacturing looks like now, is another great way to expose students to opportunities.

Where to Start

There are lots of free resources to help students begin exploring manufacturing careers. Start with these career profiles, which show real examples of the types of jobs available. You can also do some manufacturing-focused STEM projects as a family with these student activities. Finally, these classroom activities are great for educators to try with grades 6-12.

The possibilities are endless, but to make sure students are prepared, they need access to high-quality STEM programs as early as possible. Making that possible where most needed is our mission here at C-STEM. As we continue to see gaps in qualified workers for promising STEM jobs, it’s a mission to which all parents, educators, and communities need to be committed.

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11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM

11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM